A Picture is Worth (x) Words

Everyone’s heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but does it hold up when you’re actually counting the words?

Among writers, the subject of outlining seems to be a fundamental ongoing process question: to outline or not to outline, and also when, and in how much detail, in what form, and how closely to follow it. For the record, I’m a firm believer in outlining, and tend to make progressively more detailed outlines as a project unfolds. I also tend to sketch various ideas for the scenes I’m working on, and collect photographic references.

Visual references may not be talked about as much as outlining, but I think it’s a great tool, and at the recent Wordcrafters writers conference in Eugene, I noted both Terry Brooks and Elizabeth George talking about the use of visual references in their work. Mine tend to take the form of little maps or sketches of characters, visual details, or dramatic moments. I also look for ideas and take photographs at various locations, and use image searches on the internet.

Today I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few sketches from recent chapter outlines and do the math to figure out how many words a picture is really worth. In most cases there were multiple little sketches per chapter, so I took the number of words in the completed chapter and divided by the number of sketches. Here are a few pictures with their associated word counts.

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481.8 words

2014-04-09 09.54.39

298.4 words

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509 words

2014-04-09 09.57.45

410 words

2014-04-09 09.57.58

679 words

When I averaged everything up it turned out a picture is actually worth about 445.33 words. It was a lot less than a thousand, suggesting that pictures, while incredibly useful, may be slightly overrated. However, this was a very limited study of only a few sketches made by a single writer for a small sample of chapters. More research is needed.

Surely this doodle is worth a thousands words, but I haven’t written the chapter yet.

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*First published on ShadowSpinners, April 2014.

“Buyer Beware” to be translated into Italian

fantasy-jewelry-3My body swapping, sci-fi farce “Buyer Beware” will be translated for the Italian language magazine DUDE. The story was previously published in Every Day Fiction, and the English language version can be read there.

I’m excited to have another story translated, and to reach a new audience. The online magazine is beautifully designed, and appears filled with fiction and various culture pieces. No word yet on when my story will appear, but I will post when I know more.

A Legacy Dark and Strange

320px-FireFantasy, with all its weirdness and wonders, is the deep root of all fiction. Long before people began to write books, for 50,000 years they huddled around the light of fires, under starry skies, in deep forests, and in the shelter of caves to tell their stories. The impulse of fiction was already there, in the myths and legends that were born among them.

Imagine the kinds of stories they were telling. People knew little or nothing of what lay beyond the horizon. And at night, in the darkness, that circle of knowledge shrank to the dim glow of a campfire, if they were lucky enough to have one. The stars were a mystery, animals were otherworldly, and death was a great enigma. A man or a woman who ventured beyond the horizon, or out in the night, might never return. Those tales must have been dark and strange, filled with adventure, monsters, and magic.

There is an element of fantasy in all fiction, an attempt to imagine and understand something beyond ourselves: another person, another life, another world. Modern stories are born from that same original impulse, to weave tales, to entertain, to educate, to warn, and to find meaning in the world and in the often extraordinary experiences of our lives. I like to think my stories can be traced back to the mythic structures and weird tales that started it all, stories woven from the threads of an ancient dream.

Although our horizon has grown wider in a way, there is always an edge, without and within, beyond which dwell things unknown. The unknown is far greater than the known, and that is where horror lives. It lurks in the darkness beyond our meager campfires.

*First published on ShadowSpinners, May 2013.